There are uncanny similarities between Shafali Verma and Richa Ghosh. Both are nursing their father’s shattered cricketing dreams. They spent most of their childhood watching and listening to cricket stories from their fathers. At Rohtak, Sanjeev never pursued his dream due to financial constraints, whereas in Siliguri, Manabendra Ghosh never made it beyond the club level.
Interestingly, their cricketing journey started after watching cricketing gods — Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni. For Shafali, it all started when she watched Sachin Tendulkar’s last Ranji Trophy match at Lahli. For Richa, it started after watching MS Dhoni’s World Cup winning six from her hometown in Siliguri.
Around three years back in front of a packed MCG, they suffered heartbreak in the Women’s T20 World Cup final. A couple of weeks ago, the duo helped India to lift the inaugural U-19 Women’s World Cup.
On Sunday India will start their World Cup campaign on Sunday against their arch-rivals Pakistan and in the absence of Smriti Mandhana, India will be banking on their explosive teenagers to step up at the senior level.
Their power-hitting is very natural, and that’s what caught the attention of their respective coaches – Shib Shankar Paul and Ashwani Kumar.
“Richa can hit sixes at will. She can just stand and hit it out of the park. Her strength is very natural. At present, she is one of the cleanest strikers in this Indian cricket team,” Paul, a former Bengal and India A medium pacer, told The Indian Express.
“She likes Dhoni because of his six-hitting prowess,” he added.
Shafali’s father feels the monkey is off the back with the U-19 world cup triumph and he is hopeful now that his daughter will repeat the feat for the senior team.
“The heartbreak of 2020 is not healed yet, but winning the U-19 title was a big confidence booster for Shafali. She has got the taste of winning. For any athlete, there is no better thing than the habit of winning. It is a team game and I believe this Indian team can go all the way, considering their talent and depth in the squad,” said Sanjeev.
Both Kumar and Paul have one concern about their wards’ eagerness to hit every ball for a boundary.
“With time she will realise that she can’t hit every ball for a four or six. To keep the bowler under the pump is her game, she has terrorised the world’s best bowlers, but at the same time you can’t throw away a good start. She is still 19 and called it an exuberance of youth, but that’s her game and that keeps me on edge. In recent times, she has worked on her strike rotation, which I must say is a pleasing development,” Kumar, a former Haryana Ranji Trophy coach, had said.
On the other hand, Paul, a bowler himself, feels at crunch moments, Richa must play with calculated aggression. “Being brave is great but you must win the battle. What is the point if she scores an 8-ball 15 and ends up on the losing side. I want her to be calculative in her approach, because her role in the team is as a finisher. I have been telling her this everytime we train or talk – to be patient and that it is okay to play a couple of dot balls,” said Paul.
Mandhana ruled out, Harmanpreet fit to play
Opener Smriti Mandhana has been ruled out of the team’s opening Women’s T20 World Cup game against Pakistan on Sunday as she is “still recovering” from a finger injury that she picked up while fielding during the warm-up game against Australia earlier this week.
“Smriti has a finger injury and is still (in) recovery, so she won’t play, most likely. It’s not a fracture and we’re hopeful she will be available from the second game onwards,” coach Hrishikesh Kanitkar said during a press conference.
Captain Harmanpreet Kaur has recovered fully from the shoulder niggle she picked up during the Tri-series.
“Harman is fit to play. She has batted for the last two days in the nets, she is fine,” said Kanitkar.